Monthly Archives: January 2015

SOME UNIVERSITY RESEARCH SCIENTISTS DO INDEED HAVE GUTS!

 

Don't Laugh, since He can See the Truth very Clearly!!  (http://dr-monsrs.net}
Don’t Laugh!    He can See the Truth very, very Clearly!!     (http://dr-monsrs.net)

Most people have a distorted view about what scientists working at universities really are like.  There certainly is some truth in the common feeling that scientists researching in the ivory tower have it easy while living a safe and comfortable life without ever working up a sweat.  In the modern era many university scientists worry more about their research grant(s) and their lab space assignment than they do about how to get a difficult experiment to finally work, or whether alternative explanations for their recent results make more sense than a traditional interpretation. 

There are a few exceptions to such generalizations, and some university science faculty do maintain their individuality and personal standards.  These persons frequently are known as troublemakers, weirdos, hard boiled eggs, creative geniuses, misfits, or ambitious workaholics.  Some of the same characteristics desired for successful research scientists also are found prominently in these distinctive individuals; such features include curiosity, creativity, and  inventiveness, as I have explained earlier (see: “Curiosity, Creativity, Inventiveness, and Individualism in Science” ).  In addition, these same scientists often are characterized by such features as idealism, pig-headedness, not fearing to speak the truth, and, dedication to being a scientist. 

This report relates a few true stories about actual university scientists I have known.  All have the personal courage to fight the system, and are unconventional.  Their identity must remain a secret in order to protect the guilty! 

University scientist X attacks the glorified institution of tenure! 

Scientist X is a very successful cell biologist who is hard-working, creative, well-liked, and highly individualistic.  He works at a very large state university, and has had his research grants renewed throughout his career.  He was overwhelmingly qualified to be promoted and tenured.  However, because he is independently wealthy, he decided to forego all the time and scrutiny involved with this academic ritual.  All other faculty are totally enthusiastic to accept whatever is necessary to get tenured.  His Chair, the Dean, and the senior professors in his department all tried to persuade him to accept becoming tenured, but he just would not give in. 

Academic tenure traditionally gives a faculty member the right to speak their opinion without fear of being fired by the employer.  How in the world can any university faculty not want to become tenured?  Prof. X readily explained his most unusal decision with something like the following (paraphrased):  “I do not have time for tenure.  I do not need tenure, since I can easily get a new faculty position elsewhere if I am fired here.  I always say what is on my mind, so tenure means nothing to me.  I am doing a good job here, so why do I have to get it?”  No-one could remember such statements ever being offered before!  His fellow faculty frequently commented about Prof. X (paraphrased):  “What is wrong with him?  He is just unbelievable!  Tenure is so important and utterly necessary!   Poor Prof. X must be mad!  No professor can survive without tenure!” 

For university faculty members, the decision about tenure is required, meaning that faculty candidates either must be retained with the promotion or else they are discharged from employement (i.e., “up, or out”).  After much further disputation, Prof. X still would not give in!  He reportedly told his superiors that he would be pleased to just continue doing his usual very good work without having any tenured status, but that was impossible according to the University bylaws!  Finally, a special arrangement was worked out when his employer realized that they strongly wanted him to continue working at this university; Prof. X became tenured without being evaluated further or having to sign any papers. 

This real story is amazingly unusual!  Nobody else ever rejects the chance to be promoted to the tenured rank, or actually offers reasons for that rejection.  Prof. X must be admired for having the guts to be outspoken and self-directed.  He stuck to his personal beliefs and challenged a long-standing university tradition.  In retrospect today, it is totally clear that becoming tenured made no difference at all to the continued good success of Prof. X as a professional research scientist. 

University scientist Y pays for some of his own research expenses! 

Scientist Y is unusual because he, unlike all other university faculty, is willing to spend his own personal money for some of his business expenses (i.e., payment for purchases of some small research supplies and for transportation to national or international science meetings).  Other science faculty at his urban university never ever do that; they could not understand Prof. Y and condemned his judgment about using his own funds.  They would simply not go to any science meeting unless their travel and hotel expenses were paid for by external funds.  Some of the other faculty thought that Prof. Y definitely must be some kind of weirdo! 

When asked to explain his unusual willingness to spend his own personal money for travel expenses to participate in a science meeting, he said that he viewed this as an investment in himself as a professional research scientist.  He actually was buying additional knowledge (i.e., the talks and posters he witnessed), making new contacts, asking questions about research to scientists he met, and interacting with some attendees as a potential collaborator.  Putting these same funds into investments indeed might get him more money, but that did not really help his science career as much as what he gained by being at the meetings. 

This unusual use of personal money undoubtedly was an expression of Prof. Y’s very strong  commitment to science.  Many famous scientists show this same commitment as a notable feature of their professional success.  Such personal commitment unfortunately is becoming infrequent in the modern age. 

University scientist Z calls into question whether a research grant is necessary for  faculty  scientists to continue researching and publishing! 

Professor Z lost his research grant 1 year ago, and is trying either to get it back or to acquire a new award.  Traditionally, for all faculty at his university, losing their external grant support means that they will soon have to relinquish their laboratory space assignment unless they can soon acquire new research funding.  Although composing several applications takes up almost all of his time, Prof. Z continues to work actively in his research lab and has published several new research reports.  He openly maintains that: (1) he had purchased enough research supplies to last for another few years, (2) he and one graduate student continue their research work, so no additional lab personnel are needed, (3) his output of new peer-reviewed research reports in good journals continues just as it did before he lost his grant, and, (4) he wants to continue his lab research. 

Other faculty now complain to the Chair that they need more lab space for their grant-supported projects, and want Prof. Z’s space assignment to be re-assigned to them.  It is totally unheard of that any former grantee can continue to do research and to issue new publications without having a research grant award.  His Chair is very uneasy with this situation, particularly because Prof. Z is still actively researching.  Prof. Z’s intention clearly calls into question whether researching can be done without having a grant. 

This dilemma arises because all positions are seen only as being black and white, rather than as different shades of gray.  Even Prof. Z admits that he did even more when he was funded than at present.  Nevertheless, it is completely false to state that Prof. Z presently is not producing good research, because he obviously still is doing so.  As more and more university faculty members lose their external research grant awards, this entire situation now will arise more frequently; with the vicious cut-throat hyper-competition for research grants now in effect (see:  “All About Today’s Hyper-Competition for Research Grants” ), the former grantees almost always rapidly lose their argument and become very bitter.  The usual response to this situation indicates that modern universities are after profits from research grants more than seeking additional contributions of significant new knowledge and understanding; in other words, the inflow of money is more valuable to them than the production of new knowledge.  

Concluding remarks.  

These stories illustrate that some individual scientists at universities do have much personal integrity and a strong commitment to their work.  But, it certainly takes guts to be different!  Scientists in academia usually must restrain their individualism in order to function and succeed in their job situation.  The personal courage and strong determination of the individual scientists described above should be applauded by all the other faculty; instead, those individuals usually are ridiculed.  It never is easy to stand up and do what one believes to be right when many others have the opposite opinion.  These real stories show that some academic traditions and rules are made to be broken.  The story about Prof. X particularly shows that modern universities must be forced to do the right thing!   

 

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WHAT DOES SCIENCE MATTER TO ME, AN ORDINARY PERSON IN 2015?

 Science is everywhere! Everybody needs science! (http://dr-monsrs.net)

Science is everywhere!  Everyone uses science!  Everybody needs science!  (http://dr-monsrs.net) 

The general public is estranged from science and is afraid of scientific research (see: “On the Public Disregard for Science and Research” ).  This sad state is due to several interrelated causes: (1) very defective education of people about what science is and what research does, (2) a general decrease in the educational status, such that most adults feel they cannot possibly understand anything having to do with science or research, (3) the issuance of science news on TV and the internet as gee-whiz stories that are strictly for amusement, (4) scientists are viewed as some weird creatures wearing white coats in labs with lots of strange machines and computers, and, (5) almost nobody has ever met and talked to a real living research scientist.

Basic research, applied science, and engineering: what does each do?

The research work resulting in some new commercial product or an amazing new medical development typically arose through the work of quite a few different scientists and engineers.  Basic research starts this process by investigating the whys and wherefores of something; this seeks new knowledge for its own sake, irrespective of practical uses.   Applied research takes some basic findings and seeks to develop their practical usage by improving their qualities and capabilities; this seeks to expand knowledge so that some potential practical use (i.e., a product or process) can be derived.  Engineering development then pushes the progression of development further by making it economically feasible to produce, and commercially effective to sell, something that is new or better; this seeks to enable a new or improved commercial product to be manufactured and marketed.  The 3 phases of this process can take place within the laboratory setting of a university or an industrial research and development (R&D) center.  The entire process often takes years or decades to be completed. 

Why does scientific research matter to everyone? 

Ordinary people should feel emotionally attached to the progress of science and research, for several reasons.  First, the public pays taxes for the research enterprise, and therefore everyone has some interest in the success of these studies.  The basic research by scientists requires time, money, and good luck to be successful; the money from commercial profits or tax collections pays for all the salaries, supplies, and other essential research expenses.  Second, the applied research and engineering R&D efforts are entirely devoted to satisfying the expectation of some future usage by the public.  This anticipation is based upon the self-interest of numerous  people in the public concerning practical matters in their daily life (e.g., better communication, better treatments for medical ailments, cheaper transportation, cleaner environment, less work and time needed to do something, more widespread good nutrition, etc.). 

All people visit commercial stores, food markets, gasoline stations, sites for laundry and cleaning, etc.  During all these transactions, they are using the results of research and development by scientists and engineers, whether they realize this fact or not.  Naturally, devices and tools for daily life need to be modified, thus giving rise to development of improved commercial offerings; the wishes of the public, as well as the financial hopes of marketers, serve to encourage progress in technology.  When people realize that scientific research impacts literally everything in their daily life, then they will begin to understand what scientists do and to be more enthusiastic about science and research.  Modern science not only builds spaceships and manipulates atoms, but it also helps people to live and work in a more satisfying and healthy manner. 

Can better education solve the estrangement of people from science? 

Education must be remodelled so that all adults can comprehend the organization of the branches of science, what researchers and engineers actually do in their daily work, and, how  science is a vital part of life that has importance for everyone.  The divisions and subdivisions of science should be taught early, and should be explained with everyday examples.  If the public saw scientists as being fellow people, instead of as some bizarre creatures from another planet, they would be much better able to learn about real science rather than pseudoscience.   The stories about how some key discoveries actually were made by “famous scientists” should be taught in middle school.  Selected laboratory exercises in science classes should be given in middle schools and colleges, but with much more background so that students will see these as concrete examples of how science and research lead to some important practical event(s); this cannot be accomplished by meaningless exercises to memorize as quickly as possible before all is forgotten forever.  To see, touch, and hear scientific research in the real world, all students should have the opportunity in high (middle) school to visit a university or commercial research lab, along with the chance to ask questions and meet some actual doctoral scientists, graduate students, and research technicians working there.  

Instituting these changes could remove many of the problems the general public now has in  understanding and appreciating scientific research.  However, I do recognize that this approach is made difficult or even impossible because most teachers of science working today in high schools have themselves been maleducated.  If these teachers first will learn to be more fully knowledgeable and will develop the needed good understanding of their subject, then they will be able to show their students how science is involved with daily life and how interesting it is.  Some recent programs on the internet are aiming to improve the regard of the public for science, but because they are using an entertainment medium to present a serious subject they will continue to achieve only very limited success. 

Concluding remarks

Scientific research is everywhere in our daily life!  All that we consider to be facts originated through the activities of scientists and other research scholars.  It is not only prersent when a doctor prescribes a new medicine to alleviate some disease, but also is there when we eat a piece of dried pineapple or ride in a modern bus.  People must be better educated so they can recognize the giant role science and research have in our daily lives, and see the activities of scientists and engineers as contributing much to progress in all aspects of our activities as individuals.  

The main message is that science is for everyone, everybody uses science, and everyone needs science!  Science is both fascinating and mysterious, but it should not be feared.  It is time that ordinary people more easily recognize the very large roles scientific research and engineering developments play in their daily life! 

 

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BASIC VERSUS APPLIED SCIENCE: ARE THERE ALTERNATIVES TO FUNDING BASIC RESEARCH BY GRANTS?

Both basic research and applied research need to be supported by grant awards!  (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Two high school teachers discuss basic and applied research at universities!!     (http://dr-monsrs.net)

Basic science uses experimental research to seek new truths and test hypotheses.  Applied science seeks to improve or invent devices, methods, or processes so they have better output (e.g., faster or slower, lighter, more efficient, less expensive, more durable, etc.).  Research in basic and applied science at universities both need to be supported by external research grants.  At present, the large federal granting agencies increasingly seem to favor making awards for projects with applied research; awards to acquire knowledge for its own sake in basic research studies now are not considered as worthwhile for funding as formerly. 

What good is pure basic research? 

The classical work of the great pioneers in science, ranging from Galileo to Linus Pauling, all was pure basic science.  Nevertheless, research studies in modern basic science typically are seen as ridiculous or worthless by ordinary adults (e.g., What happens if entire chloroplasts isolated from plant cells are inserted into living animal cells?).  This viewpoint is very short-sighted because it ignores the simple fact that all research progress is part of a continuum of investigations by many different scientists.  Almost all new devices or items of practical use follow this general pathway of development; the final output of applied research can occur several decades after the original discovery by basic research.  Thus, esoteric new knowledge from basic science studies often becomes useful and important when it generates later research in applied science and engineering.  

The basis for all later developments in applied science is the open research in basic science. The number one example of this is the transistor.  When transistors were first made by Bardeen and others, they were viewed as “lab curiosities” that had no potential for practical usage [1].  No-one foresaw their eventual revolutionary significance for the myriad electronic devices and computers in today’s  world.   

How is it decided what research actually is conducted? 

In an ideal world, professional scientists with a Ph.D. decide what to investigate and how to carry out the needed experiments.  In the present world, faculty scientists at universities investigate only what can be supported by external research grant awards.  This necessity  influences and restricts university scientists right from their first job since applicants for a new research grant always very carefully inspect published announcements stating which topics and areas are currently being targeted by the governmental funding agencies; these agencies thereby have a very large influence on which research studies can be pursued.  Governmental officials at agencies awarding research grants can silently direct research efforts into chosen directions, and ensure that certain research topics receive more attention by university research scientists.  An analogous direction of work occurs for most industrial researchers, since they must work only on those research questions having significance for their commercial employer. 

The governmental control of funding for research investigations in science is problematic since the funding agencies increasingly seem to favor funding of research projects in applied science.  This is due in part to the understandable desire to obtain progress within their area of special interest (e.g., energy, fuels, health, military, etc.), and to show the tax-paying public that their support for research studies produces useful new devices or new processes with practical benefits to many.  The funding agencies unfortunately do not understand that basic studies almost always are the precursors for later developments by applied scientists and engineers.  Thus, these funding agencies have an inherent conflict between providing funding for the basic or applied categories of research. Decreasing the awards for basic science later will cause decreases in the output of applied science.  

What are the consequences of favored funding for applied science? 

Any favoring of applied science over basic science for receiving external funding awards inevitably has negative consequences on the progress of science.  First, it decreases the amount of research funds available to support pure basic research.  Second, it conflicts with the well-known fact that almost all important advances and engineering developments originate from some earlier finding(s) by pure basic researchers; decreased funding for basic research later will cause fewer results with applied research.  Third, all the research subjects not selected for targeted funding in applied science thereby are disfavored, and these consequently become less studied.  Fourth, the origin for most new ideas, new concepts, breakthrough developments, and new directions in science is the individual research scientist (see earlier discussions on “Individual Work versus Group Efforts in Scientific Research” and “Curiosity, Creativity, Inventiveness, and Individualism in Science” ).  Applied research tends to decrease the freedom to be creative; that also encourages formation of research groups and decreases the number of grant-holding scientists functioning as individual research workers. 

Are there alternatives in funding or support mechanisms for basic science?

Very small short-term research studies often can be supported by either personal funds or crowdfunding (see earlier discussion in: “Other Jobs for Scientists, Part III.  Unconventional Approaches to Find or Create Employment Opportunities” ).  Some granting agencies have programs offering small amounts of financial support for one year of work; these special opportunities are particularly valuable for scientists seeking to conduct pilot studies.  Where larger research expenses are needed, those mechanisms for support of small research are insufficient, and it is necessary to obtain a standard research grant from the external support agencies.  For subsequent investigations, most grant-holding scientists at universities choose to apply for renewal of their current award; once on the train, it seems easier to stay on board instead of trying to jump off to transfer onto a different train! 

It is not always recognized that a few organizations offer substantial cash prizes for certain targeted competitions (e.g., design a safe human-powered aircraft, develop an efficient system for producing bulk proteins from single-celled algae at special indoor or outdoor farms, construct a practical and inexpensive all-electric gasoline-free automobile, etc.).  Such projects are strongly involved with applied research, although they do involve whatever materials and directions the scientist-inventor wishes to utilize.  These special competitive prizes are retrospective awards given after the research studies and engineering developments are finished; that is totally the opposite of standard governmental research grants which give prospective awards for planned research work before it has been conducted. 

Retrospective research grant awards also are found in ongoing support programs of some other countries, but are not usual in the USA.  Those countries support their research scientists at universities and institutes by routinely awarding them general operating funds (e.g., $30,000/year); these funds provide support for such needed expenses as the work of graduate students, purchase of research supplies, unanticipated research costs (e.g., repair of a broken lab instrument), travel to a science meeting or to the lab of a collaborator, etc.  This supportive practice is a lifesaver whenever an active scientist’s research grant is not renewed. 

Support for basic research inside the current federal research grant system

The diminishing support for basic research necessitates looking for alternative funding sources.  It is not always recognized that normal federal research grants do allow some awarded funds to be utilized for new basic science investigations, so long as these have some relationship to the main subject of interest and do not require very large amounts of money.  This usage of research grant funds usually is considered as a justified expense when the Principal Investigator approves these expenditures.  Such side-projects often are labelled as being pilot studies, since they can produce enough important data to later be included in an application for a new separate research grant.  

Concluding remarks

Support by the research grant system for basic research studies now is decreasing while  support for applied research studies increases.  Knowledge for its own sake always will be important, and is the basis for subsequent developments in applied science and engineering.  Both the basic and applied types of research studies are valuable for the science enterprise and society.  The current disfavoring of basic research studies should be stopped, because that hurts the future promise of research studies in both basic and applied science; at present, basic science needs to be encouraged more.    University scientists must develop and use additional or unconventional means to enable them to conduct the needed basic science investigations. 

[1]  Mullis, K. B., 1987.  Conversation with John Bardeen.  Available on the internet at:      http://www.karymullis.com/pdf/interview-jbardeen.pdf .

 

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AFTER SPENDING BILLIONS, WHY HAVE SCIENTISTS NOT YET FOUND A CURE FOR CANCER?

 

Cancer Research is having some Good Effects, but even More Progress is Needed!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

Cancer Research is having some Good Effects, but Much More Progress is Needed! (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 Just about everyone on this planet would dearly love to honor any research scientist who can find a cure for cancer.  Despite all the money and time already poured into extensive research efforts in labs and hospitals, the goal of curing this devastating clinical disease still remains elusive; about 589,000 cancer patients are expected to die from cancer in 2015 [1].  A big question thus arises, “What good is all the research and money spent on trying to conquer cancer, if a cure still has not been found after all these years?” The more you know about cancer as a biological phenomenon, the better will you be able to understand why attaining a general cure is so very, very difficult.  This brief essay will teach you about the reasons for this frustrating situation that seems to damn the efforts of dedicated researchers in both basic and clinical science.

A brief background of essentials about cancer

At its most fundamental level, the biological phenomenon of cancer takes place in our cells.  All cancers are thought to originate from one normal cell that changes into a cancer cell when it becomes “neoplastic”; this term means that the abnormal cell(s) divide independently of the regulatory mechanisms controlling cell growth and division.  Multiple causes for development of cancer are recognized (e.g., chemicals, chronic inflammation, genetic heredity, mutagenesis, radiation, viruses).  Unrestrained growth of neoplastic cells usually results in a “tumor”; this term specifically means some localized enlargement or swelling filled with the proliferating neoplastic cells.  A neoplasm can be benign, meaning that it enlarges but does not spread to distant locations; this is contrasted to malignant neoplasms, where the abnormal cells can metastasize (i.e., spread to other regions of the body and start growing there). 

About 1.67 million people are expected to be newly diagnosed with cancer in 2015 [1].  Cancer is not always lethal (i.e., some 14 million cancer survivors now are alive and kicking (see:  http://www.cancer.org/ ))!  Some cancer patients are being cured (i.e., their neoplastic cells can be removed, caused to die, or to stop proliferating).  Cures can be the result of surgical excision, localized exposure to lethal irradiation (i.e., radiotherapy), treatment with chemicals that cause cell death (i.e., chemotherapy), systemic exposure to high tech antibody treatments (i.e., immunotherapy), or, other newly developed experimental therapies.  When treated cancer patients retain their disease, therapy can slow its progression and ameliorate their quality of life.   Even if no treatments work, the situation for any cancer patient is never absolutely hopeless because there are some spontaneous remissions where the neoplasm miraculously regresses and disappears. 

“Cancer” is a very complex and variable entity  

Cancer ian extremely complex biological phenomenon showing enormous variability (e.g., age of patient, cell of origin, general health status, genetic background, location in an organ, nutritional status, presence or absence of continued development of neoplasia (i.e., carcinogenesis), presence or absence of enhancers, rate of growth and division, type and dosage of therapy administered, etc.). There are over 200 different types of cells in the human body, many of which can become neoplastic.  Neoplastic cells are very similar to normal cells, but show some changes that give rise to aberrant functional activities.  In particular, neoplastic cells reproduce without regard to the normal controls that restrict cell growth and division.  Almost all the different varieties of cancer cells divide more frequently than do their normal (non-neoplastic) counterparts.  In addition, neoplastic cells usually change their normal shape(s) and adhere to each other less strongly.  

The enormous complexity and variability of neoplasia are the fundamental factor making the search for a general cure of cancer truly difficult.  These features also make it wrong to refer to cancer as a singular term, e.g., “the disease, cancer”, because there are so many different cancers and each shows variability.  The term “cancer” thus can be thought of as being analogous to the generic term “paint”; that label says nothing at all about the type of paint, its color, what it is made of, which kinds of  surfaces it can be applied to, how it is applied, its durability, etc.  The great complexity of cancer is strongly evidenced by the fact that a chemical agent completely curing one type of cancer typically has few effect(s) on many other kinds of neoplasms.  

What can laboratory research do for cancer patients? 

The most essential reason why cancer can not presently be cured despite therapeutic advances and improved methods for early detection is that this family of neoplastic diseases involves multiple different causes, many different cell types, and numerous variable conditions of human existence (e.g., quality and quantity of nutrition, hygiene, exposure to dangerous environments, screening and early detection, clinical monitoring, availability of expensive therapeutic protocols, etc.).  The targets of treatments for cancer are the neoplastic cells; these are dynamic targets that change their status, properties, and metabolism as clinical therapy progresses.  Despite tons of research, there still is no accepted general or molecular distinction known between the normal and neoplastic states of each cell type; this essential information will become available later through additional laboratory research studies.  The complexity and variability of cancers, along with the absence of full knowledge about many key parts of neoplasia, have even led some to speculate that the long-sought goal of finding a general cure for cancer actually might be impossible. 

At present, basic understanding about the whys and wherefores of neoplasia remains very incomplete.   Once there will be much greater understanding about the nature of neoplastic versus normal cells, and about the mechanisms for carcinogenesis, then the chance for applied research to develop cures for cancer undoubtedly will increase.  The main hope for finding a general cure for cancer therefore is to continue basic research vigorously; in my view, especially needed are development of very new approaches for clinical therapy, and formulation of very innovative concepts or unconventional theories that can be tested experimentally by lab studies.  Any proposals that all research grants should be awarded only for cancer research, or that all scientists should work only on studies of cancer, are idiotic and as misguided as are proposals that it is pointless to spend more billions trying to find a general cure for cancer.  All of us, and particularly cancer patients, must have great patience while the needed enormous amount of experimental work by both experienced and new investigators progresses. 

What can clinical research do for cancer patients? 

The fight against cancer now involves current efforts by clinical scientists (i.e., oncologists, who are MDs specializing in treating cancer patients) to find: (1) ways for earlier detection, (2) more effective means to kill cancer cells while leaving neighboring normal cells intact, (3) the genetic and physiological conditions needed to allow cancer cells to proliferate, (4) prevention of metastasis, (5) induced modulation of the immune system for experimental immunotherapy, (6) invention of new and better ways to use chemotherapy, (7) invention of new ways to improve specificity and lethal effects of radiotherapy, (8) identification of anti-neoplastic nutritional effects upon cancer cells, (9) development of new very innovative mechanisms and approaches to target and kill cancer cells, and, (10) development of more effective and less toxic multimodal therapies for cancer patients, etc.  All this activity requires the work of doctoral scientists in many labs, and of clinical oncologists in many hospitals.  Adjunctive work for the production and research use of very special new materials (e.g., new antibodies and immunomodulators, new genetic strains of cultured cells, new chemicals, new nanostructures as targeting devices and carriers of toxins, new detections of small cancers via advanced imaging assays, etc.) also are needed.  Extensive clinical trials must be conducted to determine the efficacy and safety of all newly successful  research treatments for human cancer patients. 

Is research progress against cancer being made?  

All basic or clinical studies of cancer are neither easy nor inexpensive.  It is reassuring to know that good progress is being made in the clinical treatment of some previously untreatable cancers.  Clinical applied research often is based upon previous basic research findings.  Many cancer patients now live longer and more actively due to their new clinical treatment(s).  Research progress indeed is being made; all the money and time spent with cancer research is having some very good effects for cancer patients, even though the final victory has not yet been accomplished.

Many scientists and clinicians working with cancer have the feeling that if there was a much greater fundamental understanding of neoplasia at the cellular, molecular, and genetic levels, then improved therapies and better preventive measures could and would be developed.  Current research is looking closely at the interactions of different gene expressions and protein networks, within normal versus neoplastic cells.   Further progress towards the goal of curing cancer undoubtedly will involve tackling difficult questions in both very basic science (e.g., exactly how does the metabolism of neoplastic cells differ from that of their pre-neoplastic or normal counterparts?) and applied clinical science (e.g., how can oncologists cause repression or expression of certain target genes in a safe manner within human cancer patients?).  The road to a cure will be long, hard, and not straight; thereby it will take great determination, long persistence, and very creative experiments before success eventually can be obtained. 

Concluding remarks

The materials presented above should enable all readers to have a basic idea of the nature of cancer, and to recognize why cancer in human patients is a very difficult disease to understand and to cure.  Although the ultimate goal has not been reached yet, cancer research continues to progress slowly and incrementally.  In my view, this will be made speedier by (1) more emphasis on cancer prevention, (2) evaluating completely new ideas for clinical treatment of cancer patients, and (3) development of innovative concepts about the fundamental nature of neoplasia.  Patience with the progress of cancer research now is needed more than is additional support money.  Cancer research requires intense dedication and long efforts by laboratory scientists, clinical oncologists, and cancer patients.  These efforts necessitate spending additional enormous sums of money to support the hospital and lab work.   Research results that do not produce a general cure for cancer still are valuable since the new facts acquired can be used subsequently for the generation of better experimental studies and of advanced clinical treatments

A  postscript from Dr.M

For those seeking further information or news about cancer, treatments for cancer patients, incidence, clinical cures and new trials, cancer research, costs, etc., I recommend that you visit the excellent websites of the Americal Cancer Society (see:  http://www.cancer.org/ ) and the National Cancer Institute (see:  http://www.cancer.gov ). 

 

[1]  Simon, S., for the American Cancer Society, 2014.  Facts and figures report: 1.5 million cancer deaths avoided in 2 decades.  See:  http://www.cancer.org/cancer/news/news/facts-figures-report-cancer-deaths-avoided-in-2-decades .

 

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